What’s Wrong With Millennials? Partly, Their Parents’ Divorces

By Joshua Charles Published on August 4, 2017

Another good friend’s parents are divorcing. The vast majority of my Millennial peers have already told me the same news about their parents.

Older generations are inclined to be harsh toward Millennials. We certainly deserve it, in some ways. We avoid marriage and family life and when we marry, we tend to marry late. Millennials seem “afraid of commitment.” We won’t “settle down.” Many of us would rather live together than get married.

But Why?

But why? Part of the reason is way too many of us have seen our parents, you, divorce after decades of marriage. I don’t claim this is the only reason, or even necessarily the prime reason, but it is a major reason.

I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve had whose parents have divorced after 25, 30, 35 years of marriage (sometimes fewer). The breakups are always heartbreaking, and often very nasty.

No generation has seen divorce among its parents as much as the Millennial generation. I would not at all be surprised that it has necessarily played a role in many Millennials’ decisions to get married later, not at all, or to go on “test runs” with significant others through cohabitation.

Some of these choices are wrong. But given the demographic slaughter that has occurred among many of their parents, can the same generation which shows what marriage is not blame them for not knowing what marriage is?

The Grief of Seeing Your Parents Divorce

I have also experienced the pain and grief of seeing my parents divorce. I was fortunate to be in my mid-20’s, and thus able to deal with it as an adult rather than as a child. But it was a seminal moment nonetheless.

We grew up as a generally respected Christian family. Neither me nor my siblings believed our parents would ever divorce. Little did we know that the issues that popped out toward the end of the marriage were but the latest manifestation of many deeper issues that had been going on for years. The divorce was merely the culmination of a cancer that had long been ignored, and never treated.

None of this is to take away from the amazing contributions both my parents made to my life, for which I am forever grateful. But it is a deep wound to suddenly realize that this place called “home” that you always assumed would be there no longer is. It cuts deeply when the one thing you think only happens to “other people’s families” happens to yours — when the one thing your parents promised they would never do they did.

My parents married relatively young, but certainly no younger than was common in their day, and certainly no younger than has been very common throughout much of human history. Every marriage and family is different, and thus I hesitate to be too general in commenting on the causes of divorce.

For What?

But what is certain is that my generation has seen more of divorce than any other. The family — the God-made bedrock of our lives, our education, our moral formation, and for many of us our faith — has been shattered.

It’s a terrifying thing to see your parents spend decades in a relationship, only to see it all go down the drain. You have to ask, “If this happens so much to good people, after decades of marriage, what hope do I have for a successful marriage?”

The question many Millennials invariably ask is “For what?” Many of our parents have been horrible teachers of marriage and family life, for invariably even a good family life that ends in divorce cannot avoid a peculiar sense of vanity. Precious things that seem wasted always will.

You cannot look askance at the generation so ill-taught and judge them for undervaluing what you taught them to esteem cheap. As the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote, “It is not young people who degenerate. They are ruined only when grown men have already been corrupted.”

By all means edify, encourage and lovingly correct my generation on marriage. But before judging it, make sure you are being honest about the world you gave them.

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  • Patmos

    This was known all along, even when divorce numbers started to increase decades ago, and our supposed leaders did next to nothing. Then they just stopped talking about it. Last time I heard this brought up in the mainstream media was maybe 15 years ago, and that was just in passing. Then there was the brilliant idea to pervert marriage brought on by the traitor Obama. Yes, this stuff is more than likely deliberate.

    It’s only going to get worse too. The next generation is losing the ability to relate to one another on even the most basic level. There was a piece in The Atlantic the other day about young people’s reliance on and over use of cell phones, and how it effects them emotionally. The implications on tomorrow are staggering.

    So leadership is doing nothing, but are there any preachers out there preaching repentance, and teaching people? No, we don’t really have that either. Millennials have only gotten a steady diet of the gospel of grace, which is not the gospel at all, that is if Millennials are even paying attention. As such they are utterly clueless to the authority given by Christ and the implications of salvation. What’s worse is Millennials have also been infused with this peculiar sense of mindless activism, that change needs to take place, regardless of the cost or outcome. Combine the two and it means the spread of a false gospel. I expect Mensa Member to chime in here at any moment to prove my point.

    The great deception cannot take place without there being people to be deceived.

    • Mensa Member

      >> when divorce numbers started to increase decades ago, and our supposed leaders did next to nothing.

      Worse than nothing, church leaders started blaming gays for the threatening marriage!

    • Jack Danner

      @disqus_erlLULcVZ1:disqus
      Interesting point about the mindless activism. So many of them rally to causes they know nothing about! Reading your comment made me think about 1 Peter 4:15 – not suffering as a troublesome meddler (among other things). Here are the definitions of the Greek word for troublesome meddler:

      Short Definition: a prier into other men’s affairs
      Definition: one who meddles in things alien to his calling or in matters belonging to others; factious.

      Tell me that doesn’t fit them to a T. How often do you hear stories about the factions they form gallivanting off into some half-baked cause to correct an injustice (or more commonly, a perceived injustice), of which they themselves have never personally been victimized?

  • blackfeather

    ding ding…they have been indoctrinated, dumbed down, and brainwashed….that about says it all.

    • Mensa Member

      >> ..that about says it all.

      Says it all?!? I can think of a whole bunch of questions from your statement.

      For starters, who is “they”? Seems vaguely paranoid to me.

    • Az1seeit

      Not all. The destructive effects of divorce/broken homes….even single parent homes…is very real. The propagation of the idea that “children are resilient” as a justification for ignoring the trauma on their children is heinous. The human body is resilient: Burnt flesh will heal, but it will leave an ugly scar. This article’s point is salient and convicting….if our culture’s collective conscience is not completely seared.

  • Mensa Member

    I suspect that Charles is spot-on with this article.

    I thought it would be easy to find some hard numbers since marriage has been widely and deeply studies. Are the children of divorce more likely to avoid romantic relationships and marriage? (Obviously, compared to children of intact parents.)

    I suspect that statistic would back up this author’s assertion but by how much, I couldn’t guess.

    I’m sure the numbers are out there but hidden in a tangle of research. Does anyone know?

    • Charles Burge

      It’s not just marriage avoidance. It’s pretty well established by now that children from broken homes suffer in a myriad of ways compared to their peers from intact homes – including greater instances of problems with emotional development, issues with anger, more risky behavior, more drug use, more attempted suicide, more criminal activity, higher drop-out rates from school, higher proportion of teen pregnancy, and more difficulty forming relationships of their own. The problem even leads to the expansion of government, because more divorces necessitates more courts and more social service workers. This also contributes to the lowering quality of schools, because the anger and emotional problems lead to more disruptions in classrooms, which reduces the effectiveness of teaching. I’m convinced that MANY of the societal problems we are facing today are caused or exacerbated by the breakdown of the traditional family structure. (J.D. Vance had an enlightening section about that topic in his book Hillbilly Elegy.)

      • Mensa Member

        I was aware of most of what you say but I was responding to the premise of this article — that children of divorce are more likely to postpone marriage (and/or cohabitate).

        I would guess that the author is correct but would like to know some hard numbers.

        Specific to Millennials, huge student debt is probably delaying marriage. The Great Recession surely had an impact, as well. The decline of religiosity surely plays a role but I would guess not hugely. A well-crafted poll could reveal all of that and probably some other things I’m not thinking of.

        PS: I’ve heard of “Hillbilly Elegy” but I didn’t realize it was a serious book. It’s a memorable title!

        • Charles Burge

          Specific to Millennials, huge student debt is probably delaying marriage

          Yes I would agree with that completely. Just one more example of how failed government policy has had a disastrous effect on culture.

          And yes, Hillbilly Elegy is a very serious book (though written in a way that makes it very engaging). If you don’t mind some swear words (that’s a general warning, not specifically directed to you), then I recommend it. It shines a light on some very serious struggles that a segment of our population is enduring.

  • tz1

    Little did we know that the issues that popped out toward the end of the marriage were but the latest manifestation of many deeper issues that had been going on for years. The divorce was merely the culmination of a cancer that had long been ignored, and never treated.

    NO. Not even close. Cancer is a tragedy. We all go through painful times, and then the question is if we stand with our promises or principles, or let the devil convince us that there is an exception to “In sickness and in health, till death do us part” short of adultery, abuse (felony battery), or abandonment.

    Divorce is Euthanasa of the “one flesh”. Too painful, so just have an easy suicide. Cancer? Well Chemo and radiation is really awful. Hemlock is easy.

    If it were 1960, and some serious reason would need to be given, would the divorce have happened?

    Jesus condemned Divorce as a grave sin in all four gospels and doubled down when his apostles said “then it is better not to marry”. Sorry if Dr. Jekyll turned into Mr. Hyde. Sorry if the sweet and beautiful blushing bride turned into a witchy hag. Christ has to put up with you, your faithlessness, and your sins. The husband has to imitate Christ, even to sacrificing his life. Living sacrifice is the hardest. And the wife is to obey, even if she doesn’t understand, like, or agree with the command, short of sin.

    There is one more issue. Contracepton. Millenials, except for a few Christian sects and others were all either a conscience choice, say between a vacation or new car, and you or an accident (isn’t it horrible that aboriton is murder, otherwise we would have killed you in the womb!).

    Your parents weren’t simply a bad example, they were an example of sin and evil. PERIOD. If one left to do a gay “marriage” would you even condemn that? But to return to my Euthanasia, what if your parents did love each other, but one got cancer and the other killed them because they couldn’t stand the suffering? What would you say?

    Even so, you must honor your parents, even if they were bad. But honoring them is to be grateful for your life, and the good things they gave you. It is the opposite of honor to excuse sin and evil. You can pray for them and ask everyone else to do so.

    • Mensa Member

      >> Your parents weren’t simply a bad example, they were an example of sin and evil. PERIOD.

      Evil? Period? Really?

      I like to save that word for really, really bad people. Not half of all people!

      • tz1

        If you reject the Gospel and the words in Christ in red, I can’t help. Go ahead and do whatever debauchery you think works.

        Christ himself – and St. Paul condemned 100% of the people (Christ and Mary excepted). Sorry, read the bible and the catechism.

        The problem is that we are all “really, really bad people”. MORE than half of all people. Probably more than 90%.

        I can simply take what Malachi and the words of Christ say about Divorce.

        The author of the post didn’t say they were satanists, or pagans, or pedophiles, or something else utterly evil and fallen before their divorce. So I assume the parents were “decent people”. But they did grave evil. Either they were deeply given to evil and ignorant a priori, or the were really good and became evil. I don’t see a third alternative.

    • Josh Charles

      Sorry, I think you went WAY overboard with this one. The use of that term was in fact a reflection on the sin involved, which I am deliberately keeping private. Before you go so off the edge, read a bit more carefully, and look a bit more deeply. This was an absurdly over-emotional reaction that completely misconstrued the plain meaning of what was said.

      • tz1

        If you only wish to reveal a mere shadow, don’t expect me to comment accurately.

        The plain meaning WAS OBVIOUS. Sorry that your attempts at hiding or shading things failed. If your parents were abusive, adulterous, or one went to Costa Rica and abandoned the other, feel free to state so.

        But this is part of the stupid attempts at not really presenting the full evidence, but then hoping people can draw the right conclusions.

        I can only approach posts as having both the prosecution and defense case as full and proper.

        I have no idea what you elided. If you INTENTIONALLY excluded exculpatory evidence, don’t complain that I found the parties guilty. And if you wish to appeal, present new evidence, don’t complain that your cartoonish parody resulted in a wrong impression.

        I can only have the right impression with truth. Not your pulled, censorious punches.

        • Josh Charles

          My parent’s guilt has NOTHING to do with the point of this article. Absolutely nothing. It was a horrible thing that we went through, and OBVIOUSLY sin was involved. That’s as far as I’m willing to go to protect people’s privacy. It is not necessary to go further. Chill out.

          • svh

            Amen.

    • CruisingTroll

      JC is right, this is overboard. I say so because you, yourself, have stated that he must honor his parents. While I also disagree with the “cancer” analogy, I do so more as a matter of style than objecting to it on the basis of it somehow excusing their actions. Unless it would clearly serve some purpose, flopping the details of their failure, of their sin, would most definitely NOT honor his parents.

      Oh, and while I’m at it, how DARE you treat marriage in such a cavalier manner. God’s standard is one man. One woman. For life. PERIOD.

      • Josh Charles

        It was simply a metaphor for sin that was never addressed over the years. Why that is not clear, and why people get worked up over such insignificant matters, is truly beyond me.

        • CruisingTroll

          While I agree that the metaphor works on the “growing and getting more dangerous over time” aspect quite well, as everybody understands that about cancer, there is a second aspect of using a cancer metaphor that’s a bit problematic, and it’s likely what triggered tz1. We generally think of cancer as something for which we aren’t responsible. It’s random, striking down the innocent as well as those guilty of “poor lifestyle choices.”

          Divorce isn’t like that. It is a deliberate choice, by one or both parties, to do something that God hates.

          • Josh Charles

            Metaphors and figurative language become useless if we insist on analyzing them as if they are exact replicas or representations of reality. That isn’t their point. It wasn’t the point here. And I think 99.99999% of people realize that.

          • Az1seeit

            The cancer here is our fallen condition, which we will all have with us until we leave this world, redeemed or not. Add to that…we live in a fallen culture and simply be virtue of exposure, we are pickled in it. The cancer metaphor is apt.

            Mr. Charles, thank you for your article. It is helpful to see millennials through this lense.

      • tz1

        He has ALREADY “flopped” a few details of his parents’ failures. My problem is that you cannot plead the 5th AFTER you’ve already testified to the exculpatory half, and resist cross-examination.

        He should have left his parents out of his original post if he desired privacy.

        Since he brought them into the discussion, he cannot now shut it down because he doesn’t want to go deeper when questions are asked based on what he already exposed. He opened Pandora’s box.

        And I agree with one man, one woman, for life.

        • CruisingTroll

          If you agreed with “one man, one woman, for life”, then you wouldn’t have posted what you did.

          We all go through painful times, and then the question is if we stand with our promises or principles, or let the devil convince us that there is an exception to “In sickness and in health, till death do us part” short of adultery, abuse (felony battery), or abandonment.

          That is not an endorsement of “one man, one woman, for life.” That is an endorsement of divorce.

          • svh

            It is definitely a matter of God given “free will” whether or not one honors their promises (ie, marriage vows). God provides the grace in a legitimate marriage, but one must also freely accept the gifts of grace: therefore, one can always refuse grace by free will, and it becomes a matter of choice whether to divorce. The author did NOT condone divorce, only pointed out that one can be tempted into evil, and cooperate with it, or not.

  • Scott

    I agree completely. I have four older children and none of them have aspirations of marriage because of what they saw in my own marriage. Every marriage will have its dark moments that can only be saved by the grace of God. What happened to grace, commitment and perseverance. Even when vows are broken our kids need to see what grace looks like in the darkest of times. After all did not Jesus show us grace. Our kids need to see the power of grace lived out in their parents lives.

    • Mensa Member

      Thanks for the personal story. I’ll say a little prayer for you.

      I”m curious… how old were your children when the divorce happened? The few scholarly works I’ve read on the subject makes me believe that divorce is much harder when it happens to younger children. (It’s not good for even adult children. Just not as bad..)

      There are a lot of factors. If both parents keep close relationships with the children, that helps. When one parent “disappears” it’s particularly brutal. It’s easy to understand why that’s much worse.

      • Scott

        My kids were 8, 10, 12 and 15. It is a tragedy. Thank you for your prayers. Pray that God would heal their hearts. The divorce was 8 years ago.

  • Brendon Luckett

    This definitely hits home. Ive witnessed three divorces since the age of two and I am now 19. Im not of the millennial generation. But seeing so much disappointment towards that generation. Whats next for generation Z? I honestly can only see things getting worse. There is only one thing that has helped me and is the only thing that can save others and it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t lose heart brothers and sisters.

  • Voice of Reason

    Let’s mark everything as spam that tells the truth… pathetic.

  • Hi Josh, With the non-profit organization Mary’s Advocates, I work to reduce unilateral no-fault divorce and support those who are unjustly abandoned. We invite parties to sign their wedding promises and designate a 3-rd party arbitrator to manage marriage disputes, not no-fault divorce lawyers. We believe this would be an incentive for parties to work on keeping their marriage together. We have other resources too. What do you think?

    • Josh Charles

      I think that sounds like an awesome ministry, and I thank you so much for doing it!

  • Jennifer Hartline

    Y’all need to go to Amazon and search Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak. Read the book.
    Divorce has destroyed so many hearts and lives, and our society is so weak and wounded because of it.

    • Josh Charles

      Yep. Thank you. It’s a tough issue. I don’t believe in excuses (except in rare cases). But I do believe in fact-based, compassionate explanations.

    • Jim Walker

      These are the words that make divorces:
      Expectation (asks of)
      Communication (lack of)
      Patience (lack of)
      Tolerance (lack of)
      Unforgiveness
      Fidelity
      Selfishness

      There should be more.
      We are shaped by the society we live in and divorce rates will only increase no matter how a couple try to find secular ways to safe their marriage.

      The thing that kept my marriage was my marriage vow :

      For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

      Easy words to read, but a lifetime journey.

      My quote :
      “Marriage is like a Bed of Roses, with thorns.
      It will take a lifetime to trim away the thorns together, the longing you do it together, the easier the life ahead for both of you.”

  • brbg

    A German philosopher and sociologist, Jurgin Liminski, found that “among couples who are religiously married and who also pray together, only one marriage out of 1,429 breaks down”. This is the answer to the breakdown of marriages in the world today.

    • Dhaniele

      We cannot ignore the breakdown of religious observance in general and the effects that it has on our way of thinking about the questions of real life if we want to understand our divorce statistics.

  • Tamia Slack-Walker

    Yet ANOTHER cop-out for the poor, poor Minnellis… They are NOT the first generation to have to deal with divorce, nasty or otherwise but whatever excuse can be found for their behavior, by all means let’s jump on it. Why don’t we just hand them a divorce trophy while we’re at it. Ridiculous. THEY are responsible for their own behavior, just like any other adult out there… but by all means, let’s pat the poor, mistreated things on the head.

    • Josh Charles

      Indeed, we are. I even said that. I also said that we should be called out for sin. I simply made the case that no generation has seen as much divorce as we have, not by a long shot, and that this fact helps EXPLAIN some of what we are seeing with Millennials, and should induce empathy from non-Millennials. That’s a fact. I’d read a little more carefully. Sin and error SHOULD be called that.

      • Tamia Slack-Walker

        No Sir. The divorce rate sky rocketed THREE GENERATIONS BACK… and we all has the same exact issues to deal with. My Mom’s been married twice and my biological father, 12 times. The problem seems to be that Millennials seem to think they’re special and sensitive and need to be patted on the head continuously. We’ve raised a bunch of entitled sissies. Not all of them, of course.. there are some great young adults out there but geez, give me a break. This article is absolutely absurd and the exact thing that I’m talking about. Buckle up Buttercups… LOTS of us have already climbed out of this hole, way before you were born.

        • Josh Charles

          You, ma’am, don’t what you are talking about, and you don’t realize how much I have openly criticized my generation. Grow up. Your rhetoric is inappropriate. Obviously the divorce rate skyrocketed a long time ago. But that is a relative measure. As an absolute measure, Millennials have by far seen the most family breakup of any generation. Chill out, and realize that no one is making excuses for ANYTHING (did you even read the article)? Merely calling for increased understanding.

  • mollysdad

    It’s a terrifying thing to see your parents spend decades in a relationship, only to see it all go down the drain. True.

    But someone has to pull the chain and flush their marriage down the toilet. Someone has to walk the walk to the lawyer’s office and then talk the talk that says: “I want out.”

    In every divorce, there are always two people for the kids to blame. One of the parents, and a judge.

  • SurrogateReader

    You make a great point Joshua. While not giving a pass to Millennials, we can point to reasons contributing to their “stuckness” in a lot of areas of life. As a therapist, I’ve seen healing and strength to grow up enter young people who’ve finally had someone diagnose their pain and fears as related to parents’ divorce. When traumatic events occur while in development as a person, development stops. It must be acknowledged and healed in order for proper development to continue. These folks need our compassion because no one asked them if they wanted their lives disrupted when parents made the decision to alter their own lives.

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